Risky Business

Students are constantly expected to battle with failure. We tell them to ‘Fail Better’, or tell them that Michael Jordan has ‘failed’ 9000 shots in his career and “that is why [he] succeed[s]”. We get them to plan, edit and redraft, always ready with a red pen to point out errors, to critique. And if they’re afraid of failure, we say “Try, don’t give up!” We expect them to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and to make progress- to be constantly getting better . We expect teenagers- with all their baggage- to risk failure in front of their peers. And if they don’t take a risk, we call them out on it. 

But as teachers, how comfortable are we with our own failures? Risk taking in the classroom is surely where we uncover inspiration. By diving into the unknown, risk allows us to forge ahead with new learning and to break new ground. It allows us to make connections with students and to inspire a love of our subject. But with risk, comes the possibility of failure. In a climate of content driven curriculum, an emphasis on retention of knowledge over time and linear courses, can we really allow ourselves the possibility of failure?

I work at a school only recently removed from Special Measures, where the behaviour and compliance of students in lessons has been an area of constant focus. To introduce risk into the classroom could mean that students start talking about something unrelated to the lesson. Something that happened last week at their Granny’s house, while they swing on their chair, flip a bottle and talk across the room. And that moment of fuzzy ‘failure’ and lack of engagement is the exact moment that your Head Teacher chooses to walk down the corridor, locking eyes with first the bottle flipper- then you.

Is risk therefore worth the risk?

In this blog, I’ll be trying to take a risk every week in the classroom. Something that puts me out of my comfort zone. If it fails, I’ll unpick the process and, like I’m constantly telling my students, try to ‘fail better’- that is, to use what didn’t work as part of a path to success. I firmly believe that risk creates powerful moments in the classroom- moments where we can make connections with students that simply wouldn’t happen where we choose to play it safe. So let’s get it wrong, let’s risk a look from someone that says “WTF are you doing in there?” 

Where we push at the edges of our practice, we inspire, we motivate, we connect. Regardless of errant water bottle flippers and occasional aimless chat, risk is worth the risk. 

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